Sylphide: An Adviser

Which associations do you have when you hear the word 'corset'? Maybe fainting, discomfort, agony, etc.? Unfortunately this is the case with many people. The following compilation of questions and answers, based on my own experiences, is to do away with the corset's negative reputation, to list its positive effects and to inform you about the practical use of corsets today, in our time. After having read this leaflet you should associate corsets with elegance, grace and attractivity.

I will deal with the following topics:

What is a corset?

The corset has been part of female undergarments for a long time now; it has a long tradition. It has been worn since the 15th century; and it is still worn today, although not by many women. The corset's great period was around the turn of the century, during the so-called 'Belle Epoque', about 100 years ago. Fifty years ago it was a very fashionable garment, as well.

Corsets are usually made of firm materials (such as satin, brocade or cotton) and embrace the torso from the hips up to the bosom. Wrinkles in the material are prevented by flexible busks. A robust front clasp makes it possible to put the corset on and pull it off fast. The lacing is at the back; it functions just like the lacing of shoes or boots.

Why should women wear corsets?

Generally speaking a corset has three effects on your body:

  1. it makes your waist smaller,
  2. it lifts and supports your bosom,
  3. it improves your posture.

Those three effects are the reason why corsets have survived such a long time; they enhance the beauty, elegance, femininity and attractivity of each woman. The effects number 1. and 2. are consequences of the pressure which the corsets exerts on the waist and lower ribcage. Effect number 3. is due to the stiffening busks in the corset.

Aside from these main effects corsets have, of course, other, agreeable impacts on your body:

  1. if the corset is long enough below the waist, then it makes your stomach perfectly flat,
  2. if the corset is long enough above the waist, then you can dispense with bras, for your bosom is supported by the corset,
  3. the corset supports your back when you have to sit on a chair for a long time; this is comfortable and it makes sense from an orthopaedic point of view.

To sum up it can be said that corset-wearing has the following effects: a small waist, a beautiful bosom, a flat stomach and an erect posture. Aren't these things desirable for every lady? They all influence your appearance positively. This I will explain in more detail below.

Who can wear a corset?

Every lady! But caricatures often depict corpulent women who are squeezed into a corset. Certainly a corset can be used to control "fat masses", but the main purpose of corsets has always been to form a smaller waist in slim or reasonably slim women. By using a corset you can get an aesthetically pleasing body shape and you won't suffer from any health problems if you apply an adequate method to get accustomed to corset-wearing.

How small can I lace a corset?

Not too tight! At first sight this statement may seem worthless, but it contains the principal aspect concerning this question. A well-fitting corset is to look natural; by no means should it look as if the wearer was forced into it or felt uncomfortable. But this is only possible if the lady really feels good; which is certainly not possible in a corset that is too small. Maybe you think now: "I can never have a small waist because I can't stand it for a long time to be laced very tightly!" That would really be the case if there was not the phenomenon that you can get accustomed to being tightly laced. This principle is essentially important for the use of corsets.

Your first corset will probably be only about 2 inches smaller than your natural waist measurement. If you close the lacing entirely you will probably feel a little bit of discomfort, but you'll be well able to stand it, I'm sure. Some weeks or even some days later you will notice that it is no longer tight, you'll in fact hardly notice anything any more. Now the time has come to put on a smaller corset, which has a waistline of about 4 inches less than your unlaced waistline. Now try to close the laces. It will probably feel a bit uncomfortable again, maybe even more than with the first corset. But after some time you will have got accustomed to this corset as well. Principally you could go on like that, but judging by experience I can say that the waist should not be laced in smaller than by 20-25% of its natural measurement at the beginning of the lacing to stay comfortable. If your natural waist measurement is, say, 65cm, you can lace it by about 13-16cm, that is a resulting waistband of 49-52cm.

The period of becoming accustomed to corset-wearing usually takes some weeks or months; that depends on the wearer's physique and robustness; but after a certain period of time all women can get used to corsets. This is not idle talk, I have experienced it myself; and it corresponds to the experiences of all other corsetting women whom I know! My natural waistline is 58cm. Usually I lace it down to 44cm, that is to say 75% of the normal width. And I feel comfortable with it.

In case you are one of the more ambitious ladies, you can stick to the following details, which are based on recommendations of ladies who lace or laced themselves very tight; a part of them was written during the great period of the corset, about 100 years ago. According to them there are three methods to find out the smallest possible and the smallest advisable waist measurement. The first says that the target waist should be smaller by 25cm than the natural waist. A natural waist measurement of 65cm would then measure 40cm at the end. The disadvantage of this method is that the waist reduction is not dependent on the natural waistline. The second method takes the bust circumference as a basis. According to this method a moderate waist reduction would end up in a waist measurement of 5/8 of the bust circumference with the minimal waistline not under half the bust. An example: a woman with a bust of 85cm would have the following waist measurements: moderately laced 53cm, minimally laced 42cm. This method has the advantage that it takes the proportions into account and thus creates a well-proportioned figure. The third and last method suggests that the waist measurement should be a bit smaller than that of the thigh, which is advantageous in so far as body proportions and indirectly the body weight and amount of body fat are taken into account. So you can look well-proportioned after having changed your figure (i.e. by losing or gaining weight). The three methods described in this paragraph require more intensive preparation in order to get accustomed to them than those I mentioned above. If you wear the corset a lot, you can feel quite comfortable in it, even if it is tightly laced (for special occasions).

I'd like to add something concerning the period of becoming accustomed to corsets: I assume that you sometimes wear high-heeled shoes (7-9cm of height). Here it's similar as with corsets: You have to walk in them for a certain time in order to get used to them. And if you want to wear even higher heels you once again have to get accustomed to them. It has been my experience (and that of all other corsetting ladies whom I know) that it is easier to get used to corsets than to get used to high-heeled shoes!

By the way: You can easily reduce your waist by several centimeters by losing some pounds.

How do I lace my corset correctly?

You say perhaps: "Just pull!", but there are quite a few - let's call them rules that you should take note of in order to be successful. Some people make mistakes when lacing up their corsets; this is the reason for many "corset failures". And it's often the case that women don't wear their corset because they don't know how to lace it correctly.

You should never wear the corset next to the skin; there should be a cotton vest (or something similar) between the corset and the skin. This has the following advantages:

In the following I'll give you a detailed description of how to lace a corset correctly. The laces are threaded just as the laces of a boot are. Start at the upper edge; at the waist, that is the smallest part of the corset, don't cross the laces but make two loops and then proceed as before until you reach the lower edge of the corset. Knot the two lace ends.

It is necessary to cream the skin that will be covered by the corset. It'll be best if you do that half an hour before you put on the garment. It's especially important to take care of the skin round the waist, because it is likely to get dry because of the permanent pressure that is exerted to it by the corset.

You should wait until your skin has totally absorbed the cream before putting on the corset. Stand in the bathroom (or another room that can be easily cleaned) and treat your stomach, back and sides generously with talcum powder. This is an important measure to protect your skin.

Then put on a cotton vest. It makes sense to put talcum powder on the vest as well, for then the vest is easily movable under the corset.

The corset should be opened wide enough that you can easily put it on and close the front clasp without problems. Next you can move it until it seems comfortable to you (you'll gradually find that out).

After that you should knee in front of a bed or sofa and lie your torso flat on it in a relaxed way, with your arms stretched above the head (that brings the ribcage into a good position).

Now the actual lacing can begin. It is best carried out by someone else. But you can also do it yourself (I do that in at least half of the cases). You should do it in several stages, in the first pass it's especially important that you don't use force. The verb "to lace" is actually too strong for this procedure. It is rather meant to tauten the laces slightly. Proceed from the lower corset edge to the waist and from the upper corset edge to the waist. You should not make the waist smaller at this point of time. Hereafter you should adjust the position of the corset once again; that's very important for the comfort while wearing it.

Next you should proceed in small steps and lace the corset only a bit tighter with every lacing pass. As before you should proceed from the lower corset edge to the waist and from the upper corset edge to the waist. Finally it is advisable that you pull the waist area a bit tighter than the rest because the laces usually loosen a bit when they are being knotted together or shortly after that. Then you can knot the laces together. For beginners it is sufficient to reduce the waist by 1cm in one pass. Do adjust the corset (this procedure can also include slight flexing of the torso to the front and sides) after every pass. In case you feel slightly uncomfortable, take a break and rest for a short time. After having reached a certain reduction, i.e. a waist reduction of about 5cm, you should take a longer break before lacing yourself tighter. Wait until you don't feel uncomfortable any more. Some women take a rest of five minutes, others need half an hour or more. During this time you can do whatever you want to, i.e. your normal daily activities. If you feel ready you can continue with lacing as described above. After some lacing passes the corset should be completely closed. If you don't close it then the laces rub on the skin which can cause red spots; furthermore the corset then doesn't have the necessary stability in the back part and the back bones can easily bend and thus cause damage both to the skin and to the fabric of the corset. Finally you should knot the laces firmly so that they cannot loosen. You can now wind the remaining laces round your waist or, in order not to make your waist wider again through the laces, you can put them under the upper front edge of the corset.

Now that the corset is closed you should by any means eliminate the wrinkles of both your skin and the vest. In order to do this, pull the vest up and down and back and forth with both hands and with smooth movements until you feel that the wrinkles have gone. By pulling at the vest you eliminate the wrinkles in the fabric and by smoothly moving the vest you eliminate skin wrinkles. This procedure should be carried out at the front, back and sides, but the lace area and the sides are especially important.

Sticking to these rules while putting on corsets is a very good basis for a long-term corset wearing. If you wear your corset for longer periods, i.e. day and night, you should frequently pull at the vest, at least once a day. If you wear it constantly it is advisable to take it off once each day and to clean, cream and powder your back, stomach and sides in order to prevent skin problems.

What features must a corset have?

You should like it! That sounds simple, but it makes sense from a psychological point of view; if you like your corset it's much easier for you to accept possible restrictions or difficulties. This is a rather subjective criterium, but there are other, more objective ones as well.

The shape of the corset is of great importance. In former times women had worn various corset shapes, depending on the current fashion styles. Corset shapes changed in the course of time: there were short and long ones, some included the bust, some did not, etc. I think it's essentially important that the corset's lower part is long enough. While sitting on a chair the lower corset edge should reach just above the pubic bone. This enhances your feeling of comfort and guarantees that the corset fulfils its supportive function as best as it can. Furthermore it prevents your stomach from 'sticking out' under the corset, which wouldn't be beautiful from the aesthetic standpoint; and it supports your abdominal muscles and thus prevents them from being stretched.

The upper part of the corset must include the four lowest rib pairs, the rest is a matter of taste. General recommendations say that the corset should reach at least up to just under the bust. If it includes the bust, you need no bra, which is a considerable advantage if you want to wear low-necked summer or evening dresses. The corset automatically lifts your ribcage and thus makes your bust look more attractive. A corset that includes the bust is very effective in supporting it.

A corset should be tightest where the body is easily formable. This is the case round the waist and round the lower ribcage (the lowest 3-4 pairs of ribs can easily be compressed!) Conversely the corset shouldn't be too tight where the body cannot easily be formed, that is round the hips and round the upper ribcage. There it should only support the body and prevent ugly bulges. So especially the upper and lower edge must not be too tight, otherwise it 'cuts' into the skin, which is ugly and unhealthy, as the skin suffers from it. It's ideal if there's a smooth line from the firmly laced waist and lower ribcage to the upper ribcage and to the hips, which are not so firmly laced.

The form of the waist is essentially important for the whole appearance; I mean especially the length of the waist (the vertical expansion of the corset's smallest part). The longer the waist, the more demanding it is for the wearer (for it's a larger portion of the body that is tightly laced) and the more dainty and graceful you look. In the victorian era women wanted to have possibly long waists (the longer, the better). Here you have to effect a compromise between waist length and tolerable degree of waist reduction. The silhouette from the waist to the upper and lower edges of the corset should be smooth and without bulges or other striking features. You should find your figure aesthetic and you should like it. Some women try to get small waists with the help of corsets whose waist has a length of only 1-2cm; but above and below the waist it broadens abruptly. Such a corset is certainly more comfortable than one with a long waist. But the result of it is a silhouette that looks as if a small belt was squeezed into the waist. This is what most people wouldn't call aesthetic.

I recommend a waist length of 5-7cm, this is a good compromise. In combination with smooth lines up to the bust and down to the hips this can look very attractive, even without lacing very tight. The moulding of such a long waist is possible because in women there's usually a wide part of the torso that doesn't contain ribs or hip bones and that is hence easily to be formed.

What clothes go well with a corset?

Some kinds of clothing are virtually made to be worn with a corset, i.e. wedding dresses and elegant evening dresses in the first place. These dresses are often designed à la Belle Époque; hence they require a corset figure. Today most corsets are worn with wedding dresses, and some women stay devoted to corsets after their marriage.

Aside of this there is another, less elegant costume that can be worn with a corset: a combination of skirt, blouse and wide belt. This is actually the ideal clothing with a corset because it can be worn on almost every occasion; don't you think that you should show off your tiny waist in public as often as possible (as you worked hard in order to achieve it)?

Usual clothes also go well with corsets, but most of them have to be altered. Especially beautiful and girl-like are thin summer dresses with a wide elastic belt round the waist. The current, figure-emphasizing fashion trends feature corsets and well-fitting dresses - and with good reason!

Another good outfit - especially for businesswomen - are fashionable, tight-fitting suits. It is especially small-waisted blazers that reach below the hips that look very good with a corset. That is due to the striking contrast between bust, waist and hips. Furthermore the corset makes you sit straight, a fact that makes people think of you as a self-confident and resolute woman.

Would you like to wear trousers? No problem, but you'll have to think over it for a while. The corset must be especially tight below the waist and must form a flat stomach. Besides that it should reach as far as possible to the hips and pubic bone. Under these conditions you can even wear tight-fitting jeans over your corset. In this context the waistband of the trousers is the most important part: Most waistbands are far too big for a laced waist. A belt is a must. Another possibility is to change the waistband, to make it smaller, if you can sew. A very convenient solution are trousers with a wide waistband (clochard-form). You can pull the belt as tight as you need it and it looks fantastic.

Again, these pieces of advice are no idle talk, I have experienced them myself and have found them out with the help of others. I often wear trousers with wide waistbands with my corsets, sometimes even tight-fitting jeans. To illustrate that, there are some photos of me available on this website. So you can see how a corset looks on a woman of our days AND how suitable clothing can look. The dresses I suggested are not extravagant, every woman has and can wear such clothes. It is important for me to promote this clothing style (girl-next-door-look) in connection with the corset, since I think that there's no (young) lady who wants to wear victorian dresses in our time.

Additionally I'd like to tell you that you can save a lot of money by wearing corsets. You needn't buy designer clothes any more, for with a corset you're going to attract even more attention than with the most expensive standard clothing!

On which occasions can I wear a corset?

Always! Or better: whenever you want to. The previous paragraph about clothing tells you that you can wear corsets on every possible occasion. I can think of hardly any event where corsets are inappropriate (except for during sport sessions or when taking a shower or on board a plane for security reasons).

Once you have become accustomed to your corset it makes sense to wear it as often as possible. The longer and the more often you wear it, the less will you notice it. If it's not too tight, that is if you feel good, you can even wear it permanently. By 'permanently' I mean day and night. I can assure you that the corset won't hinder you from sleeping well, if you feel good in it (which is mostly the case after you've got used to it). The great advantage of permanent corset-wearing is that your body does not ever again have to adjust to new circumstances, I mean that it doesn't regain its original shape during the night and the corset shape during the day. It accelerates the process of getting used to corsets; and you need not to lace yourself up every morning again (this last point is important for me, as I like to stay in bed as long as possible. Nevertheless you should remove the corset once a day to care for your skin (as I mentioned above), but after that you should put it on again. In this short time you body won't expand too much, so that it's easy to close the corset again.

If you consider all this to be too extreme, you can wear your corset for a few hours per day or on special occasions only, i.e. when you go to the theatre etc. But then you won't feel as comfortable in it than if you'd wear it permanently. In this case you should put it on some hours before the event; that is in order to become reasonably accustomed to it.

I wear my corset permanently and hardly notice it any more. I even feel a bit uncomfortable without it. The corset hardly affects me, I even ride my bike every day.

Which problems could arise from corset-wearing?

This is the point where people have most doubts about corset-wearing. I'm going to remove them now: A corset only causes problems when it is too tight or when it doesn't fit correctly! Otherwise - and other corsetting women will tell you the same - it is comfortable to wear corsets, and corsets do not decrease, but increase your joys of life.

Certainly corset-wearing has some strange effects, but you actually can't call them problems:

  1. your breathing capacity is smaller (you notice that only in case of sportive efforts (i.e. stair climbing)!),
  2. it is easily possible to eat and drink normal amounts of food,
  3. your torso's flexibility is reduced.

You should note the following concerning these three points:

  1. A correctly fitting corset does not affect your breathing at rest! If you know in advance that you will have to make sportive efforts you can leave the corset at home. After all, in this case you wouldn't wear high heels or tight-fitting jeans.
  2. A correctly fitting corset does not affect your eating normal portions! But anyway, if you were wearing a tight evening dress without a corset you probably wouldn't eat too much, either. Besides, this is a positive aspect if you look at it as an automatic mechanism to prevent you from overeating!
  3. Your spine will be fine! For you will automatically bend down by flexing your knees instead of your torso. This corresponds exactly to what orthopaedic surgeons recommend! So you see that the corset protects your spine!

Where can I buy a corset?

Corsets are not easily available in our days because there's still no great demand for them. World-wide there are only a few experienced corsetiers; and almost all of them are located abroad and do not supply individuals. Another important aspect is the service, advice, information and instruction, especially with such an unusual garment as the corset. But corsetiers don't advise or instruct their customers at all.

Each corset has its own special character, just as every woman is a special and individual person. Hence the most convenient way of manufacturing corsets is to make them to measure. This production method is a guarantee for perfect fit and utmost comfort. Admittedly this quality has a considerable price, since it is hand-made. And delivery time is sometimes quite long. All sales are final - for obvious reasons.

As an alternative there are also ready-to-wear corsets available. They don't have the same perfect fit as made-to-measure corsets, but they are considerably cheaper, they can be delivered much faster and they are sufficient for beginners (as they need several corsets in the course of becoming accustomed to corsets and to a certain target waist measurement).

I hope to have made you curious about corsets and to have improved your associations on corsets. Do you have any questions? Write to me (!

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